Monday, December 7, 2009

Artes de improvisación



What makes a good Saturday Night Live sketch artist for me?  It’s someone who can really mold into a strong character of course, or else they wouldn’t even be invited to be a part of the SNL troupe.  But more than that, it’s about how the actor or actress sells what they do.

There are a few current members who I think are some of the best I have ever seen.  Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader.  Each of these three performers, never, and I mean never gives up on their material when they are in a sketch.  It can be going well, or, where the real test lies, it can be going so badly, and they keep right on and stay perfectly in character seeing it through to the end.


 That in itself is impressive and makes me laugh.

I have been to The Groundlings, the famous improvisation theater and school in Hollywood, CA many times.  Though my knowledge of the improvisation process is limited, I am aware that it is a long, difficult road of learning the art, which also has it’s own rules.  The idea that improvisation has it’s own rules seems counterintuitive, but like everything else that is art, there is a structure of boundaries in improv that must be learned.

The most well known of these rules is that when a performer is up on stage, and a suggestion is made either by the director in control of the sketch, or by another actor on stage, the actor cannot negate the suggestion.  He or she has to go with it, and in that structure are honed the improv skills.


For instance, if you were an improv actor on stage, and someone said to you, “Hey, I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time at the coin laundry down the street.”  You can’t say, “No, that’s just a rumor.”  You have to go with that line of thinking at least for a moment.

Two of my friends have been enrolled in Groundlings classes, and I seriously have the utmost respect for them.  The art of improvisation is, in my opinion, putting oneself out there to the utmost and maximum exposure.  Anything can go right or wrong, and you get immediate feedback; and it is all instantaneous.


Anyone who has made it to Saturday Night Live has gone through years of this training and is the cream of the crop. The SNL members I pointed out are at the very top of the top and are such a pleasure to watch.

Three of my favorite characters in recent memory are:

Kristsen Wiig’s “Gilly.”
Fred Armisen’s “Martin Scorsese.”
Bill Hader as Vincent Price in his Halloween Special.